But aren’t these two ideas pretty similar? What exactly is the difference between setting boundaries and defining expectations? What about broken boundaries vs. unmet expectations? It can definitely get a little confusing, so let’s get into it.
Our entire life experience is shaped by certain expectations. We make assumptions about how a situation should go, how people should act, even adjust our behavior to fall in line with what we think others expect of us. In relationships, sometimes our partners exceed our expectations, and we can be happily surprised. Someone whose previous partner was abusive may expect to be treated that way in their next relationship, only to find a new partner who is completely respectful and supportive. Other times, our expectations aren’t met, and that’s where we tend to get hurt. For example, maybe you expected that being in a relationship meant spending time with your partner every day, but your partner has a busy schedule, and you’re left feeling neglected.
The problem is that expectations are usually based on assumptions, and anytime we assume we know what our partner is thinking (or assume they know what we’re thinking), we get into dangerous territory. A lot of the time, having an unmet expectation doesn’t mean you were wrong, it just means that it’s time to check in with your partner. Some expectations though, like wanting your partner to put you before everything else in their life, can be unrealistic and may need to be adjusted. It’s also important to remember that it’s never okay to engage in hurtful or abusive behavior when your expectations aren’t met.
If you’re in a healthy relationship, we always recommend open, honest communication to find a solution to a conflict– and that includes conflict about relationship expectations. When we don’t communicate our expectations, we’re setting a standard for the relationship that hasn’t been agreed upon, and possibly even holding someone to a standard they didn’t know existed, which isn’t fair. We may not even realize we were expecting specific things out of a relationship until we don’t get them, and it can feel surprising, confusing, and even painful to realize you’re on a completely different page than your partner. That’s why it’s so important to talk through these situations together, to ensure that you both agree on what to expect moving forward.
TO BE CONTINUED. . .